Walter and Sara Let the good times roll
In Part I, we left off at Gila Bend, AZ. The next day we drove through Tucson east to Kartchner Caverns which is just south of Benson, AZ. It's only about 50 miles from Tucson to the Caverns.

Kartchner Caverns is an Arizona State Park and they have done an incredible job of preserving this amazing living, growing cave system. Here in the middle of the desert is an underground wonderland that is 69 degrees and 98% humidity all year round. They've installed air locks to keep the outdoor's hot dry air out and have gone to great lengths to make sure that the people who visit the caves leave no trace of their passing. All entry is controlled and everyone is on an escorted tour. No cameras are allowed so I bought some post cards to share with you.

We camped in the park. Here's the view from our trailer door looking south east.

View from campsite at Kartchner Caverns

The first day we took the Throne Room tour which ends with a visit to a 58 foot tall column called Kubla Kahn.

Kubla Kahn at Kartchner Caverns Kubla Kahn at Kartchner Caverns

That little red figure in the photo on the left is a person!

The caverns are full of wonderful small delicate and huge hulking formations. The lightening is white so all the colors are the true color of the rocks. Both of us were in awe by the time we finished the tour and very excited by the place.

The next day we got up and took the Big Room tour. This tour only is available in the winter months. They close this part of the caverns from mid April until mid-October because there's a bat maternity colony that uses it during that time. The bats arrive pregnant and give birth in the caverns and when their babies are ready to move on they all leave.

Katchner Caverns Big Room Katchner Caverns Big Room

The Big Room tour allows you to get up much closer to the formations than the Throne Room tour. You get to watch the water drip, drip, drip slowly working to build up new fantastic forms.

Fantastic stone formations at Kartchner Caverns

This post card shows you a number of the smaller formations including, cave bacon (on the far top right) and soda straws and drapery on the lower right.

If you ever get a chance to go to Kartchner, don't pass it up. It is really worth the trip.

In the afternoon we took a hike through the park. Here's a panorama of the area outside of the caves.

Hills at Kartchner Caverns

The Big Room is under the hill on the right and the Throne Room complex is under the hill on the left. You'd never guess, would you?

I hung out for a while in the afternoon in the hummingbird garden at the visitor's center. I didn't succeed in getting any decent hummer pictures but I did get this one of an oriole.

Oriole in gardens at Kartchner Caverns

That evening the sky put on an interesting show for us.

Sunset at Kartchner Caverns

The next day it was HOT. We drove from Kartchner to Phoenix and when we arrived mid afternoon it was 93 degrees as we set up camp. And then the wind came up. Over the next few hours it blew like the dickens but it cooled off.

The following day when we went with Kathy and Mike, Sara's sister and brother-in-law, to the Diamondbacks baseball game we were actually a little cold sitting in the shade with the breeze swirling around the park. The Diamondbacks lost but it was fun game--final score St. Louis Cardinals 12 Arizona Diamondbacks 7--it certainly was not a DULL game.

The next day, the wind had finally died down and we had a lovely 70 degree day to visit the Chihuly Exhibit at the Phoenix Botanical Garden with Kathy and Mike and their daughter, Amy. When we arrived, there was a crew of volunteers dusting the glass because there'd been dust storms with the wind the previous two days.

Chihuly Glass at entrance to Phoenix Botanical Garden

That's what these folks among the agave and the glass are doing at the entrance to the garden.

The glass came in all shapes and varieties, mixed in with all sorts of desert plants.

Orange Chihuly Glass at Phoenix Botanical Garden Purple Chihuly Glass at Phoenix Botanical Garden

There were spires both straight and curly.

Sara Schurr and Blue Chihuly Glass at Phoenix Botanical Garden

There were chandeliers both upright and hanging.

Orange upright Chihuly Chandalier Phoenix Botanical Garden  Blue Chihuly chandelier Phoenix Botantical Garden

Balloons and things that looked like aliens...

Chihuly Balloons Phoenix Botanical Garden  Red and yellow Chihuly Chandelier Phoenix Botanical Garden

There were boats full of glass balls and others with blue glass wands

Boat full of Chihuly colored balls Phoenix Botanical Garden Boat full of Chihuly blue wands Phoenix Botanical Garden

I especially loved the glass balls.

Chihuly Glass Balls Closeup Phoenix Botanical Garden

There was a huge group of kids looking at this display that had oversized glass eggs here and there. It was the week after Easter and clearly this was an interesting place for the Easter bunny to have left his eggs!

Chihuly glass wands and eggs Phoenix Botanical Garden

And hidden in this little wetland marsh area there were these large blue plastic ice cubes!

Blue Chihuly Plastic Ice Cubes Phoenix Botanical Garden

In addition to all this beautiful glass there were cactus.

Cactus at Phoenix Botanical Garden

And a lot of them were in bloom!

Cactus in bloom Phoenix Botanical Garden

And I saw this wonderful desert spiny lizard hiding under a tree. The blue patch on his back is distinctive of his species.

Desert Spiny Lizard Phoenix Botanical Garden

When we were done with our tour of the garden it was time to visit the butterfly house! Since it had been cool the night before the butterflies were just starting to wake up. And that made them much easier to photograph. We hadn't been willing to stand in line to see the butterflies when we were at the Wild Animal Park so this more than made up for it.

Butterflies at Phoenix Botanical Garden

The next day we just hung out with Kathy and Mike and made a quick trip to a nearby nursery to look at a fish hook barrel cactus Kathy was thinking of buying. The big question is how do you handle the thing to transplant it? Very heavy leather gloves.

On Saturday, we all went to South Mountain Park. It's a huge 17,000 acre park on the southern border of Phoenix. We drove to the top of the mountain to take in the view. The highest point that they'll let you access is Dobbins Lookout. Here's Mike, Kathy and Amy at the lookout.

Mike Kathy and Amy Donaghu at South Mt Park Phoenix AZ Mike, Kathy and Amy Donaghu at South Mountain Park Phoenix AZ

And here's a view of downtown Phoenix.

Downtown Phoenix from South Mountain Park

And a panorama of the view from the lookout. As you can see it's a pretty WIDE view. Click on the photo to see a bigger version.

Panorama view of Phoenix from South Mountain Park

After this we drove back down into the heart of the park and did a little hike and had a picnic before it got too hot. By late afternoon the temps were in the high 80's. But it's dry heat and in the shade it was very pleasant to sit out on the patio and enjoy dinner!

We'll leave off here. In Part III we'll be going to Sedona and Zion National Park.